Scotland’s first autism-friendly rugby sessions for primary school pupils have been introduced by an Angus-based outfit.
The Forfar-based Strathmore Rugby Club Community Trust is holding the free, weekly sessions for primary one to seven pupils, driven by the personal family experience of the coach leading the programme.
The initiative aims to use the sport in a multi-faceted way to create a positive environment for youngsters with, or undergoing, Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.
Tag/touch-based rugby games and sensory activities to create sensations from joints, muscles and connective tissues that underlie body awareness form part of the project, which has also been designed to provide respite and social contact for parents and carers.
Sensory tents set up at the side of the Inchmacoble Park pitch will offer children the chance to take time for themselves before rejoining the game and the use of whistles by coaches will be kept for emergencies only, to minimise sensory overload.
Parents and carers will also be provided with “story boxes” and picture exchange communication (PEC) cards before sessions, to let participants know what to expect.
Trust community project co-ordinator Josh Gabriel-Clarke said: “My son Archie, who is six, was diagnosed with autism and Sensory Processing Difficulties (SPD) aged three.
“As a parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and being engaged with the additional needs community, I recognised there’s a demand but a distinct lack of activities in the area for children with additional needs such as ASD and SPD.”
In its first two years, the trust has developed other initiatives including a secondary pupils’ rugby academy, walking rugby and unified rugby for disabled adults.
“We hope these sessions will give children with ASD a positive learning environment to help them flourish while also supporting their parents and siblings,” added Josh.
The training, to be held on Fridays from 5 to 6pm and Sundays from 2 to 3pm based on demand, includes a range of other features to take into account the specialised needs of children with ASD.
A fundraising dinner is being held at the Strathmore RFC Clubhouse on June 1 to support the trust’s work, with speakers including noted teacher and rugby coach Bruce Aitchison.
The Strathmore Rugby Club Community Trust was founded in 2017 and works in partnership with Strathmore RFC, Brechin RFC, Scottish Rugby and the Scotland Rugby League.